Pork set to follow eggs as food supply tightens

Imports and cold storage intervention are the only tools retailers have to prevent a pork supply shortage like that seen in eggs, says a markets analyst.

An 18% contraction in English breeding pigs and the lowest October kill since 2017 (926,000 head) could spell trouble for supplies of Christmas ham and pigs in blankets.

This is according to pig consultant and data analyst Dominic Charman of CharmanAg, who said one data set covering roughly half the UK’s pigs showed a massive 381,000-head drop in weanlings for the year to the end of August.

See also: How to control pig feed costs and maintain nutritional needs

“This shortfall is growing,” he said. “It is a dataset from [only] half the industry, but this figure equates to 32,000t of pork. A key question is: How much is available in freezers?

“The shortage of fresh UK pork is going to come in the next few weeks, and how this can be smoothed out with imported product or frozen intervention stores is anyone’s guess.”

Mr Charman stressed that frozen pork from government intervention schemes to assist with the backlog could be used in only a limited range of products.

Where will the pork come from?

Importing pork from Europe looked challenging, he said, because all major producing nations had been walloped by unsustainable prices, backlogs and cost increases.

EU production data to the end of August showed a 3.9% drop to 6.5 million pigs.

At the member-state level, national figures showed that German production was back 11%. Danish sow numbers have fallen 3% this year and sit at a 20-year low (11 million), while Dutch farmers are being paid to sell up to help meet national ammonia and nitrate targets.

China’s pig shortage has pushed 7kg weaners to £60 a pig. Massive profits are causing pigs to make more than £1/kg profit (margin per kilogram), with 150kg pigs earning £180 for farms, according to markets insights from genetics company Genesus.

Verging on cost covering

Will Wallis, pig auctioneer for Symonds and Sampson at Frome, said trade for the best finished pigs was £140-£154, which for the lighter pigs was the equivalent of 205-210p/kg,

Mr Wallis said pig prices were “break-even, verging on covering the cost of production”, but needed to be 20% higher.

High feed costs were making store buyers cautious, but generally the picture was brighter than 10 months ago, and numbers seemed to be starting to dry up.